May 29, 2020
Dear Drama Observers,
I tell people sometimes,
“If you’re not sure where your flaws are, there’s a quick and easy way to find out. Get married. Or get a roommate. Or just get in close to someone because it’s in those close relationships that our flaws become evident.”
Relationships are like relational mirrors in which we catch glimpses of our weaknesses, shortcomings, and character deficiencies. That’s a bad thing, but it can be a good thing if we do the right things when our areas of personal wrongness show up because, only then, can corrections be made. Change presupposes awareness.
Last week, I began a series in which we began looking at five qualities needed to handle such revelations. Humility, the quality discussed last time, is the ability to acknowledge potential wrongness. A normal person takes the stance: “I could be wrong, you could be right, let’s talk.” The manipulator takes the stance: “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of discussion.”
This week, we’ll look at awareness which enables a normal person to say, “I see where I’m wrong.” But the manipulator’s stance is: “I only see where I’m right.” As I said in my seminar manual for mental health providers:
“Reasonable people make use of the feedback that relationships provide. But manipulators catch no reflections of their flaws in relational mirrors.”
That’s why we often say the following about awareness-deficient people:
- “I’ve never met anyone with such little self-awareness.”
- “That guy is just oblivious.”
- “She’s so clueless.”
Or we might suggest the person has exercised some pretzel-like ability to place one’s head up a certain bodily orifice.
I have more than a passing interest in the subject of awareness and have begun a writing project to examine it in some depth. Keep in mind that between now and when it comes out, the title is likely to change more often than a celebrity’s concert wardrobe or a Tennessee weather forecast. But the one I’m currently considering is Turning a Blind Eye.
Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:
We use physical sight metaphors to illustrate the psychological all the time. We’ll describe an experience as being “eye opening,” meaning that we’re more aware now than we were before. We’ll use phrases like, “The scales fell off my eyes,” when we come to appreciate something previously underappreciated. We’ll talk about someone’s “blind spots,” aspects of personality that are observable by others but overlooked by the one possessing them. We’ll describe overly subservient people as being “blindly obedient.” We’ll talk about being “caught off guard” or “blindsided” by the unexpected. In disagreements, we might say, “We just see things differently.” The Apostle Paul told a church that he was praying for the “eyes” of their hearts to be enlightened. When exasperated by a person’s obliviousness, we might say, “Man, you need to open your eyes.” There are movies called The Blind Side, Blind Spot, and Eyes Wide Shut. In describing his turnaround from British slave ship captain to abolitionist, John Newton included in his hymn, Amazing Grace, the words: “T’was was blind, but now I see.” As I said, physical sight metaphors are quite ubiquitous.
And then this:
The book is divided into four sections. The first three describe levels of blindness, each representing a more debilitating form of myopia than the one before.
First, there is the everyday level of blindness which is common to us all by virtue of being born into the human race. We start out in life being clueless and selfish—blind to our own shortcomings and oblivious to the needs of those around us. But awareness of self and others improves with proper instruction and with increasing age and maturity. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Twentieth Century philosopher Hannah Arendt once noted that, “Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians. We call them children.” As children grow into adults, they’re supposed to become more civilized. That is, they learn to restrain their barbaric impulses and become more self-aware and cognizant of others’ needs. Let’s face it, all civil societies are built by erstwhile barbarians. But like a third-grade classroom left unattended while its teacher is late getting back from lunch, institutions or societies run by children in the bodies of adults aren’t so civil. When immature people mature, they see later what they couldn’t previously see.
The second level of blindness is the manipulated type. Manipulators are like pickpockets who pick our pockets while we fail to realize our pockets are being picked. They’re skilled impostors who conceal their real selves behind masks of mendacity. They’re charlatans, demagogues, or snake-oil salesmen who promise big but deliver small. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. Like dexterous slight-of-hand magicians, they get us looking over there, so we won’t notice what’s happening over here. We’ve all seen the picture that, at first glance, appears to be a white vase against a black background. But a lingering look reveals that it’s actually two faces looking at each other silhouetted against a white background. The image creates a visual illusion in which our minds naturally gravitate toward what we most expect to see. Manipulators exploit that cognitive tendency and pretend to be the people of our expectations. But the jig is up when the wolf’s hairy legs are spotted beneath the wooly costume it wears.
The third level of blindness is the kind where people deliberately shield their eyes from realities they’d rather not see. Their 20-20 psychological vision is useless to them because of the blinders they choose to wear. Like the see-no-evil monkeys, they convince themselves that anything uncomfortable or inconvenient ceases to exist when it’s kept out of view. Consequently, they’ll remain blind to personal flaws. They’ll disregard another’s faults that are perilous to disregard. They’ll forfeit individual identity for the thrill of crowd inclusion and collectively praise an emperor’s new clothes even though he’s naked as a jaybird. A normal person operates according to the maxim: “Truth is my best ally.” But the operating principle of the willfully blind is: “Truth is uncomfortable, so I’ll avoid looking at it.” When a person opens eyes that have been previously squeezed shut, the inevitable discomfort will lead to growth and happiness because, as William Butler Yeats once noted, “We’re happy when we’re growing.”
The subtitle I’m considering is: “When We Look Away From Things We’d Rather Not See.”
Right now, there are many things occurring we’d rather not see. We dare not look away.
Till next week.